Facts About Vouchers

Florida

  • While public schools are graded A to F, with students at ‘F’ schools (for two of four years) eligible for vouchers, private schools are not graded—therefore there is no way to assess whether a student is actually entering a private school that is academically superior to the public school they would be leaving.45 In fact, the state senate explicitly rejected an amendment to the governor’s plan that would have graded private voucher schools like public schools.46 Further, the state refused to release the scores of the first-year voucher students as a group, even though one of the primary arguments made in favor of voucher programs is that competition from private schools will improve public schools.47
  • Private voucher schools are not required to administer tests or report scores to the public. Parents who transfer their child to a private school are responsible for ensuring that their child take FCAT tests at a public school during appropriate years, effectively removing accountability and responsibility from private schools.48
  • The Department of Education does not ask for an accounting of how public tax dollars are spent by private voucher schools, so these schools can spend the money in any way they see fit. For example, this money can be spent on renovations of rental properties or on exorbitant rents. Demetrio Perez Jr., the founder and director of the Lincoln-Marti Community Agency Schools, has been criticized for profiting from the voucher program. A Miami Herald investigation found that Perez’s Lincoln-Marti Community Agency, a nonprofit agency—which is separate from the for-profit Lincoln-Marti schools—used $413,966 of public tax dollars to make improvements to the building the agency rents. Perez, not coincidentally, owns the building. The agency also paid Perez more than $1 million in rent.49
  • Private schools accepting McKay vouchers have also come under fire for allegations of misconduct that include abusing students, misappropriating government funds, hiring unqualified teachers, and providing students with inadequate school supplies and services. Many of these private schools were created specifically to take advantage of the state voucher program, and while they are publicly funded, they provide no accountability to the public.50 For example, parents with children enrolled in Bethel Metropolitan Christian School have complained that the school has no books, no uniforms, has not provided special education services needed by the students, has staff who have verbally and physically abused students for misbehaving, is understaffed, and has a high teacher turnover rate. The school’s problems got so severe that even the headmistress of the school took her own children out of the school. She was fired soon thereafter.51
  • Bethel Metropolitan Christian School is run by the AJC 2000 Management Team, a for-profit company managed by Florida entrepreneurs Art and Angel Rocker, who also run several other voucher schools in Florida. The Rockers’ schools educate one in eight McKay voucher students and the couple was expected to receive $2.3 million in state money in 2001. However, allegations of financial and academic impropriety made by former staff members, school administrators and angry parents have pushed the Rockers into the media’s scrutinizing limelight. For example, former teachers who were paid $10.50 an hour frequently spent their own money on food for students, books and supplies such as a blackboard and papers. A former administrator sent documents to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement requesting an investigation into the company’s accounting practices alleging that the Rockers regularly misrepresented the cost of non-voucher tuition and overstated revenues. While the Rockers initially dismissed such comments as the vitriol of disgruntled employees, ongoing criticism and public scrutiny have convinced the Rockers to quit the voucher business.52
  • The accountability problems resulting from the rapid expansion of the McKay voucher program were further exacerbated by the state’s refusal to reign in the program by stipulating guidelines around accounting practices or meeting statutory deadlines. An investigative report conducted by the Sun-Sentinel reported that “…it is almost impossible for the state to know whether students with disabilities who attend private schools are getting a better education, or even an adequate or safe education.”53 Despite this, the state paid W.J. Redmond Christian Academy a total of $424,000 to educate 65 disabled students in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. State officials mailed checks to five different addresses, including the school owner’s home. State officials accepted incorrect addresses (including those of a motel and an empty church hall) and disconnected phone numbers, and posted the information on the state’s official web site. And despite the fact that the school’s student records were inaccurate and often incomplete, the state continued to send quarterly checks paying for voucher students, some of whom had left the school to return to a public school or another voucher school.54
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